by David Hardenbergh
RurAL CAP’s Most Pressing Challenges
During May of 2015, RurAL CAP completed a Community Needs Assessment. The assessment provides information about some of the most pressing challenges Alaskans face and will help the agency be better equipped to address those challenges. The results of the Community Needs Assessment includes factual information that will be used to complete the next strategic planning process.
While RurAL CAP has wide discretion in choosing the priorities for our next Strategic Plan, it will be based on an analysis of community conditions in order to address verified and local needs. Information-based Strategic Plans are increasingly important in tight economic times to support accountable and sound management practices.
Many statewide reports and data sources were reviewed and are summarized in the community assessment process. Information was collected from the Alaska Departments of Health and Social Services, Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Education and Early Development, Labor, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Centers for Disease Control, University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research, Alaska Federation of Natives, and the U.S. Census Data.
The following is a summary of the findings.
In general, Alaska’s population has expanded steadily over the past two decades. Projections show that Alaska will be larger and more heavily based in Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Alaska’s youngest population, ages 0-4, is predicted to increase by 26 percent to nearly 15,000 people between 2012 and 2042. The Alaska Native population is projected to grow by more than 38,000 or 31 percent between 2012 and 2042. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, June 2014).
Employment and Income
The March 2015 unemployment rate was 6.5 % and the national comparable rate was 5.5% as reported by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Employment has been on the rise, mainly in health and social services.
Children and Youth
The State of Alaska Office of Children’s Services reported maltreatment of more than 10,000 children (17 and younger) in 2012. Alaska Native children are the likeliest to be maltreated, making up nearly 60% of victims in 2012. Neglect is the most common type of maltreatment among children of all races and sexual abuse the least common.
The child and teen death rates in Alaska continue to be above the national average. For those ages 10-17, accidental injuries caused the most deaths and suicides were second. (Alaska Native Epidemiology Center. Alaska Native Health Status Report, 2009).
Alaska’s school districts reported that in the 2012-2013 school year, 129,052 children were enrolled in the state’s public schools. Of those, 3,868 (3%) were considered homeless. (University of Alaska, Institute of Social and Economic Research. Kids Count Data Book, 2014).
The Benefits of Early Childhood Education
Longitudinal studies of at-risk children who have attended high-quality early education programs have shown that they are more likely to perform better in middle school, graduate from high school on time, attend a four-year college, earn more than $20,000 a year, and own a home, compared to their peers not enrolled in high-quality programs (James Heckman, Nobel prize winner in Economics).
Health and Well-Being
Chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma and diabetes are among the most prevalent, costly and preventable of all health problems. Despite the fact these are preventable diseases, cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death in Alaska. In the past 30 years, the prevalence of obesity has increased sharply for both adults and children.
The health needs of rural Alaska Native youth are unique. A disproportionate number of Alaska Natives suffer from alcoholism, suicide, physical/sexual abuse, tobacco and drug use, and a lack of education and economic advancement. In Alaska, substance abuse in particular is associated with many devastating concerns, from mental illness to poverty.
Alaska’s housing needs are significant. More than 15,000 homes are overcrowded or severely overcrowded, more than 75,000 homes are cost burdened, and nearly 20,000 homes use large amounts of energy. (Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, 2014 Alaska Housing Assessment; April 1, 2014).
On average, housing units in Alaska use more than twice the total amount of energy as homes in areas classified by the U.S. Energy Information Administration as “cold”/“very cold” climates and use nearly three times as much energy per square foot as the national average.
One of the biggest challenges for Alaskans with disabilities is accessible, affordable housing. This problem is often magnified in rural Alaska where challenges for transportation of materials and supplies as well as challenges with construction exist. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, June 2014).
Finally, subsistence is another important challenge in Alaska. According to Fred John, Jr., “subsistence is so vital to our state, our culture, traditions and way of life.” The Alaska Native community’s favored solution to subsistence is expanding co-management on the state’s public lands to include Alaska tribes and Native organizations in an effort to bring Native peoples into the decision-making directly. (Tribal Co-Management of Alaska’s Fish and Wildlife Resources for Subsistence Uses; AFN White Paper on Co-Management March 31, 2015, p. 3). Subsistence resources are governed by a complex set of relationships involving local, state, federal, and international stakeholders and remain a challenge for Alaskans.
As we look ahead to the next 50 years at RurAL CAP, we will continue looking for innovative ways to address these challenges and support our vision of “Healthy People, Sustainable Communities, and Vibrant Cultures.”